updated 12/25/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 12/25/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST
The Bombay-born novelist, 42, well knew the fire and rigor of Islam when he wrote The Satanic Verses; he was raised an upper-middle-class Muslim before being sent off to England in his teens. And he has picked fights before: In 1984 Indira Gandhi sued him for slander. But did he intend Verses' portrayal of Mohammed as a liar to so infuriate the faithful? Nobody knows. From hiding he issued a statement of "profound regret." The rest is silence.
Bomb-fearing bookstores refused to stock Rushdie's book until publicity changed their minds. Yet the controversy pushed sales of The Satanic Verses to more than 1 million—thousands more, presumably, than would have been sold had Khomeini kept his mouth shut. Not that many people actually completed the difficult book. Even the Ayatollah, who died in June, reportedly never read it.